Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : wednesday 22nd of March

What Richard Did (2012 83min.) [Film4 12.40am thursday & +1]

A wealthy teenager manages to seduce another student's girlfriend, but his confidence is shaken by her continuing friendship with her ex. His insecurity results in a violent confrontation that has unforeseen consequences, and leads to his seemingly charmed life rapidly falling apart. Drama, starring Jack Reynor and Roisin Murphy.

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson (who then went on to make the excellent Frank and Room) this sombre and careful character study follows the descent of the title character (superbly played by newcomer Jack Reynor) as he travels from school golden boy to wretched, haunted misfit.

Seen by some as a parable for the journey the national psyche of the Irish nation went through during it's dramatic economic expansion and equally dramatic fall; it's an ensemble piece that relies on mood, atmosphere and some terrific acting by the young cast backed up by a well cast group of supporting adults - Lars Mikkelsen is especially good as Richards dad.

All of the drama comes from the situations that Richard causes by his actions and the film is so well made that we never feel as though we are wallowing in his predicament, but rather the audience is taken along on the fascinating and compelling journey of a haunted young man.

Not much in the way of laughs - but a sturdy and well developed piece of small scale drama.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : monday 20th of March

Wild Tales (2014 140mins.) [Film4 11.40pm &+1]

Anthology of six stories in which ordinary people react to everyday social grievances in unexpected ways, leading to bizarre consequences. The tales include a chance encounter on a plane, a tragic revelation at a wedding and an incident of road rage that turns into class warfare. Comedy drama anthology, starring Dario Grandinetti and Maria Marull. In Spanish.

A series of unconnected (but thematically linked) stories that satirise Argentinian society, its morals and codes as it struggles to adapt to the rapid change of the early twenty first century may not sound like the most entertaining way to spend over two hours; however, director Damian Szifron handles his material with skill and a dark wit.

Each of the tales stands up well enough on its own, but together they add up to a bruising drive-by assault on the film's many targets.

Neatly handled - there's little finger-wagging or hectoring and some wry humour in places - and very well played by the ensemble cast, it's a film that sets out to make a case and (for the most part) is successful.

Not for everyone but certainly worth a look if the synopsis makes you at all curious.

Saturday, 18 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 18th of March

True Grit (2010 105min.) [BBC2 10.45pm]

Remake of the John Wayne western from the Coen brothers, starring Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. When Frank Ross is murdered by a hired hand, his teenage daughter Mattie decides to take the matter in hand and find someone with "true grit" to bring the killer to justice. Mattie's search leads her to "Rooster" Cogburn, a hard-drinking, one-eyed US marshal with a fearsome reputation.

Beautifully shot by Roger Deakins the film adds a wintry tone and atmosphere that was absent from the John Wayne original.
The reworked story and script contains moments of droll humour and there's an outstanding performance by Hailee Steinfeld as Mattie Ross.

Wisely the Coens decided not to mess with climactic shoot-out between Cogburn and the bad guys and the overall tone is one of reverence to the original which, given the mess they made of updating The Ladykillers, is probably wise.

Neatly done with some very strong acting (especially Bridges and Steinfeld) it's certainly worth watching if if you enjoy the genre or the work of the writer/directing siblings.

Friday, 17 March 2017

Freeview films of the day : friday 17th of March

A Simple Plan (1998 116min.) [BBC2 1.05am saturday]

Thriller from the director of Spider-Man, starring Bill Paxton, Billy Bob Thornton and Bridget Fonda. Three men are out in the woods when they discover a crashed plane that contains a dead pilot and over $4 million in cash. They decide to steal the money, but their plan soon begins to backfire.

Sam Raimi directs with a totally different approach to that which he used for the Evil Dead or Spiderman films - rather the frantic pace and big set-pieces of those works he opts to create mood and tension through the use of slow camera moves and the atmospheric backdrop of a snow covered Minnesota backwoods town.

Paxton, Thornton and Fonda are all excellent in this elegant and suspense filled thriller.

A fitting tribute to the recently deceased Bill Paxton.

30 Days Of Night (2007 108min.) [Ch4 12.45am saturday &+1]

Horror thriller starring Josh Hartnett and Melissa George. Each year, the small Alaskan community of Barrow is plunged into a month-long period of total darkness when the sun sinks below the horizon. But this year the residents have an added problem when a group of vampires descends on the town, intent on using the extended night for an orgy of uninterrupted blood-sucking.

The (rather clever) premise is that a small Alaskan town inside the Arctic Circle is plunged into 30 days of continuous night once a year. During that time a tribe of nomadic neo-vampires come to stay and, unhindered by problems of daylight, set about laying waste to the town.

A small group of survivors led by Josh Hartnett and Melissa George (both excellent) then attempt to make it through to the end of the month and the return of the sun.

Some very suspensful moments and well-directed throughout. Thoroughly recommend, possibly the best vampire move since Bigelow's "Near Dark" (1987) and got Slade the gig directing the second "Twlight" film.

Saturday, 4 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : saturday 4th of March

Witchfinder General (1968 81min.) [BBC2 2.15am sunday]

Witchfinder General was one of the later Hammer horrors, but one of the first to break away from increasingly formulaic templates. The key differences here were the setting (English country villages) and the source of the horror. This is a film about the evil that can lurk within humans rather than a mythical monster.

Vincent Price plays Matthew Hopkins, the witchfinder of the title. This time he plays it straight. Hopkins is an unscrupulous, merciless man who persecutes people based upon forced confessions rather than evidence of witchcraft. He travels from town to town executing innocent women for financial profit and sexual favours. Indeed, there is no witchcraft in this film. Like The Wicker Man which came a few years later (and is also a must-see British horror film) it is about rituals, beliefs and abuse of power.

In the end it has not been remembered quite as fondly as The Wicker Man which is more iconic, but Witchfinder General delivers some shocking scenes of violence and abuse. It is one of the greatest British horror films. Sadly its director, Michael Reeves, died of an overdose of barbiturates the following year (aged only 25) so this proved to be his final film. Watching this film, one cannot help but wonder how his career would have progressed had he survived.

Friday, 3 March 2017

Freeview film of the day : friday 3rd of March

Zero Dark Thirty (2012 150min.) [Ch4 12.55am saturday &+1]

Action thriller based on a true story, starring Jessica Chastain. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden intensifies and pressure grows on CIA agent Maya and her colleagues to bring him to justice. But as the operation stretches over years and spans the world, factions within the security services resort to methods that are not strictly by the book, methods that present a moral challenge for Maya.

If you're familiar with the TV series Homeland you'll be prepared for Jessica Chastain's performance as Maya the hugely driven CIA operative with an obsessive goal.
She burns up the screen with an intensity and passion that occasionally borders on overplaying but is always true to her character.

Directed by Kathryn Bigelow with her usual confident style and grace, this is almost a companion piece to her previous film The Hurt Locker. What's refreshing here is that, in among the slew of recent films inspired by the US military actions in Iraq and Afganistan, here we have a female character right at the heart of the action, constantly running rings around her male superiors and demonstrating that there's more than one way to fight an intelligence war.

Kyle Chandler (TV's Friday Night Lights, Super 8) is good value as the CIA station boss totally out of his depth and Jason Clarke, Mark Strong and Jennifer Ehle add weight to a fine ensemble cast.

It's a gripping and absorbing film and it's to Bigelow's enormous credit that she not only sidelined the machismo element so often present in films like this but presents a coherent and lucid timeline/story from a series of events that many book length examinations have failed to explain with such clarity.

Interesting, informative and very well made and played.